Life is more than a mere collection of events and happenings. There are those who would argue against such a notion, those who believe that a human being’s journey through most of a century of time is little more than a process of genetic replication and propagation. Man as animal, lacking anything of the spiritual, moves through the world at the mercy of his instinctive needs and desires, rendering all intellectual and moral postulation as mere devices to either enhance his own prospects or reign in those about him. In this view, there is no meaning in life. This denial of meaning is the mark of a diseased soul.

No one (at least no one of any note) denies that the rational creature that is Man is a work in progress. From birth unto death Man grows, building upon the previous days, being shaped by his triumphs and his failures, nourishing his pride, husbanding his shame, all hopefully driven towards making him if not a better person, at least a happier one. Such changes through life are profound even amongst the most mundane. I speculate with some justification that any person past the age of forty or so can look back upon his youth and see a virtual stranger. It is not that one undergoes some great metamorphosis; rather it is the accumulation of experiences that transform the understanding of what is important and what is not.

The eighteen-year-old youth has fresh perspectives seemingly unpolluted by the weight of years. His intellect is new and vibrant and he revels in the ability to wrest meaning from the abstract. It is understandable that he might view those who have made these same mental transformations decades before as somewhat stultified, for they have in essence abandoned the wild optimism of youth in favor of an understanding of what is possible. It requires little of imagination or empathy to understand how the youthful mind can reject the counsel of those perceived to be ?set in their ways’. It is the function of the youthful mind to prod and press against such notions, for being young and undisciplined he must somehow form an understanding of what is real and what is worthy, versus what is false and despicable. This is a process prone to error and tragedy. Such is life.

The older Man is a creature whose life has given him perspective. He remembers the idealism of his youth. If he is of the fortunate, he retains that idealism even as he recognizes it is perforce tempered by his refined perception of what is both real and important. He can look back upon his youthful enthusiasms and be both proud and somewhat amused by them. Some will have persisted, others will have given way to cold reality, but all will have formed a part of the creature he is. When he looks upon the new generations following behind he can be wistful for their energy, concerned at their stridency and appalled at their na?vet?, but if he has acquired wisdom he can also accept that they shall make the same journeys as has he, and perhaps they shall bring some portion of their new thought and new ideas forward, as he believes he has done, and add to the tapestry that is the living society of Man’s existence. The desire to resist sudden and sweeping change is a part of this process for the more experienced are mindful of the destructive nature of new ideas. It occasions that such resistance can become habitual, lacking a basis in experience or wisdom, and flowing instead from an unfortunate ossification of attitudes and desires. Such, also, is life.

It is within the intellectual space bounded by the juxtaposition of these two forces that Man defines what he is. The interaction of these drives is what transforms a mere collection of experiences in to something that can transcend the mundane aspects of existence, taking what some would insist on viewing as a mere confluence of happenstance and deriving from it that most precious of all things: meaning. The Man who believes life has meaning is a primal force in the world. The Man who rejects such a notion is for all intents and purposes, dead.

Man can know such meaning through myriad channels. Religion could hold no sway in human society were there not a fundamental need for meaning. The true atheist can find meaning in his devotion to Man as a species, or through pursuit of knowledge; he does not need religion to give his life meaning, but he desires meaning all the same. For many, it is the simple act of looking backward upon their lives and seeing the tortured path they followed from their youth– that in itself conveys meaning upon them. Human beings seek meaning as surely as they seek food, water and companionship. It is a necessary component of the soul of Man.

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